This is an emotional flight for both of us. After 20 months of being banned from traveling internationally (for my friends overseas, the Australian Government restricted its citizens with a ban on international travel and punitive hotel quarantine measures for all international arrivals) we have finally managed to leave the country for our first international vacation since the pandemic started. The last time we travelled internationally, we were not even engaged (I would propose a few hours later in the plane on the way to the USA), we didn’t need to wear masks and there was no such thing as vaccinations or pre-departure / arrival testing requirements. How the world has changed.
We are off to London for a few days to explore the beautiful city. In the lead-up to the trip restrictions were tightened with pre-departure testing and isolation on arrival pending a negative test. The restrictions were frustrating, but I was actually thankful that the UK government resisted the calls for a lockdown…which would have ruined the trip.
The check-in process was difficult. My advice to anyone traveling is to get to the airport extra early. Even though we did all the pre departure documents through the IATA app, the check-in agents manually checked all documents again by hand. The holds up aren’t the organised travellers but those who haven’t got the right documentation or haven’t completed the right test and those passengers (if they are ahead of you in the queue) can hold-up your check-in.
It was so lovely to back in the lounge. Nestor is back at his post and is friendly as ever. The lounge is a shadow of its former self, with no wines by the decanter, no spa treatments and a slimmed down menu and the buffet of snacks has been removed as well. Champagne is not on the menu, but if you have the right card and ask nicely then it is promptly poured.
We start off with the salt & pepper squid; a classic dish with its trademark garlic aioli and Thai green chilli dipping sauce. This is one of my all-time favourite dishes. The spicy crunch coating melds seamlessly into the succulent calamari with the creamy richness of the aioli and bite of the Thai green chilli. I savour every mouthful knowing how long it’s been since I last tried it.
For the main course, I had the rustic chicken and chickpea dish served on a bed of rice with peas while my wife opted for a light pumpkin tofu dish. We also had a side of chips and salad to pair. Both were decent, but gee I do miss the extensive menu, especially the burger.
I chose to skip dessert as I have every intention of having another helping of the salt & pepper squid (below). However, my wife chooses to indulge the pavlova.
The meeting rooms are still there and you can book them at the reception. The computers are removed, but the printers are still there if you want to print directly from your laptop. I order another salt and pepper squid and a glass of wine and we relax until the boarding call.
Sydney to Darwin
The Business Class Suite
Today we are flying on the Qantas 787-9 Dreamliner which has a business class suite which is based on Thompson Aero’s Vantage XL seat. There is plenty of legroom and the sloped footrest provides decent legroom when the seat is in lounge mode. One of the strengths of the product is that you are able to have your seat semi-reclined during take-off or landing which can give you sleep time from gate to gate.
Each suite is semi-enclosed with direct aisle access (1 2 1 configuration). There three lights for reading when the cabin is dimmed and the seat controls to the side of the seat (pictured below) offers various pre-set recline positions, manual adjustment of the seat and a massage function. A bottle of water and noise cancelling headphones are provided. There is also USB and a power socket to keep your devices powered during the flight. The side console also has a storage pocket and there is also a larger storage area to the base of the left of the seat (pictured above).
There is a c.16-inch IFE screen with a wide selection of movies, TV shows and an interactive map which charts the course of the journey.
There are many traditions of flying which have been done away with post COVID. We didn’t get a greeting or handshake from the CSM on this flight, which was understandable. The pre-departure drinks though are still on and you can take your mask off while eating and drinking, so I say make the most of it and enjoy a glass before the flight.
Green papaya salad with poached prawns, chilli and lime dressing
The salad is lovely and light. It’s served with sourdough, Pepe Saya butter and Olsson’s salt & pepper with a leaf salad. I opt for a full-bodied red wine (I know it didn’t really match the dish, but was the best of the wines on offer). It’s the Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz from Strathbogie Ranges. It’s a decent wine, but as I have noted before the wines served on Qantas tend to lack age unlike the wines served on Asian & Middle East airlines.
Braised lamb shank with roast potatoes, honey glazed carrots and crushed mint peas
This dish is a typical roast dish, hearty succulent lamb that falls off the bone, moist fluffy potatoes, sticky smoky honey carrots and the soft leisureliness of the mash peas. It’s oh so good.
I decide to skip desserts, but my wife does have the ice cream sandwich and says I missed out.
Darwin Transit Lounge
The Darwin transit lounge is quite small but given the timing of the stopover, I don’t see it as a major issue. There’s a selection of sandwiches and light snacks and bar which has the usual suite of beverages. There is not self-service component, so you’d even have to order a cup of tea. The proximity to the boarding gate and ease of transit makes Darwin a good short transit stop for Europe.
Personally, I prefer the Darwin stopover and hope Qantas consider retaining it for the London flights permanently.
Darwin to London
The suite is the same as the prior flight (indeed it is the same plane), however you are provided with amenity kit, new menu, duvet, pillow and mattress seat holder when you arrive.
As the screen says, Darwin to London… I never thought I’d see the day where Qantas would fly from Darwin to London (direct).
Amenity Kit and Pyjamas
The PJs are comfortable and have the Qantas 100-year celebration styling.
The new amenity kit design is more stylish than prior business kits I have seen on Qantas (sometimes its been a mere pencil case). A useful dental kit and key hydrating items (hand cream, face cream and lip balm) to ease the bruising effects of a long flight. The socks are comfy, but more likely single use. The face mask is decent and there’s some ear plugs which some people use regularly, however I find it easy to sleep without them.
Soon after take-off a light supper is served. I opt for the salad of herbed lemon chicken with chickpeas, balsamic onions, broccolini and saffron aioli
I was after a light dish and this one did the trick sans the saffron aioli which was pretty rich. I scraped off the aioli and enjoyed the rest of the dish; the chicken was succulent and tender with a rustic set of flavours. The vegetables on the side were fresh and tasty.
Soon its time for bed and the business class seat transforms into a fully flat bed. The duvet and mattress base are easy to use and slip on perfectly and the pillow was very comfortable to provide for a good night sleep. Its easy to have a good night sleep on this bed. Even though the suite is not fully enclosed there isn’t too much noise or disturbances which create any issues.
There is a pretty extensive selection of snacks / meals available on demand post the dinner service; from sandwiches, quiches, roast chicken, dips and chips.
Spinach, feta and caramelised onion quiche with tomato relish and mixed leaves
I sleep for most of the flight post dinner but awake and have a quiche before watching some movies ahead of the breakfast service. The tart was chosen as it looked like the light option, but it was a tad heavy than what I expected but the relish was just so on point.
Breakfast is pre-ordered on departure by completing a form of your preferences prior to take-off. I opt for the following:
- Urban Remedy cold-pressed green juice with cucumber, apple, pineapple, pear, celery, kale and lemon
- Sourdough crumpets
- Warmed preen pea fritters with salad of quinoa, kale, poached egg and herbed lemon yoghurt
This is a light breakfast. The green pea pancakes and the handmade sourdough crumpets are a dream. The green juice is healthy but not quite a ball on the palate. The herbed lemon yoghurt is surprisingly good, but the egg yolk in the poached egg was firm…. please give me a drippy runny yolk any day of the week!
Just like departure, be prepared for long waits. We raced out of the plane and managed to get to the front of the immigration line but the queue did build after we got there. No vaccine certificates were checked but the attendant did ask about where we were staying and if we had booked our day 2 test. The reality is you can take the test any time in the first 2 days of arrival, so we have ours in the morning and paid for express service so results were received same day and we exited isolation that night.
This was a flight which, the Dreamliner offers a strong business class product, the food was amazing and certainly drew from the work Qantas done with the Charlie Perkins institute (albeit more scaled back). We arrived feeling fresh and over the next few days didn’t experience as much jet lag as previous flights. The wine list could be improved to offer a broader selection of wines include some with some decent age. PJs are now a rarity in business class and to see them offered was a huge tick. The bedding linen and blankets passed the comfort test and were easy to use. The amenity kits across most airlines have deteriorated even pre-COVID. This kit was an improvement on some prior kits I’ve seen and it did have the essentials (dental kit and lip balm and moisturising creams). The service was excellent across both flights, the staff were certainly glad that international travel is back and as enthusiastic as ever. It’s a pity with the mask requirements though, I fondly remember being greeted by the trademark smile from Qantas staff across the world when I board and I hope there is a day when I can see that again.
So, what’s it like to fly in a post-COVID world. I have no complaints towards about Qantas International post the pandemic, the service levels are amazing, the soft & hard product are still solid and even where there are tough compliance requirements they have done all to help you navigate through them. Sure, I do miss some of the things such as the spa treatments in the First Lounge, but I understand why they’ve been scaled back. My only frustrations are directed at the various governments; the constant changing entry requirements, testing, isolation etc. I had to make a number of changes to the trip accommodate their ever-changing requirements and none of them seemed logical. Having said that I would give a special thanks to the NSW government for leading the way with scrapping the quarantine / isolation requirements for international travel. It’s so nice to use that passport again!